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Driving Privilege Considered for Immigrants

April 30, 2014 | Posted In Immigration |

Even if you are living in the country illegally, you may be able to obtain a legal state driver’s license, immigration lawyers in New Jersey report, thanks to a new bill that has been proposed by several Democrats in the state Assembly and Senate. Several similar versions of the most recent bill have been introduced over the last few years, as more and more immigrants become permanent—if not entirely documented—fixtures in New Jersey homes and on the roads. 

The bill’s most recent version, known as A2135, was introduced in late February, supported by Vitale and Teresa Ruiz, D-Middlesex, in the Senate, and Annette Quijano and Joseph Cryan, both D-Union, in the Assembly. If passed, the bill will require the state to issue “driving privilege” cards to residents who do not have legal documentation for residency in the country. In order to obtain a driving privilege car, an immigrant must be able to prove that he or she lives in the state. The bill stipulates that the cards would be valid for one year, and applicants would be required to pay the standard fee assessed for drivers’ licenses, as well as an additional fee for the first five years that they have the card. 

Last year, a similar version of this bill was introduced, and extended only to immigrants who were included in President Obama’s 2012 executive order to lift the threat of deportation from undocumented immigrants who had lived in the United States since they were young children, probably brought to America by their parents. This bill extends this driving privilege card to all other immigrants as well. It also includes a measure to prevent discrimination against those who have a driving privilege card rather than a regular license, with penalties ranging from fines to prison. 

So far, the bill has received mixed reviews from both parties. Sen. Vitale told the public that the primary focus of A2135 is safety—both for immigrant drivers and for the general population. “Some of the undocumented are driving anyway,” the Senator said.” This isn’t to excuse the fact that they’re undocumented. But they’re on the roads. They’re driving,” and many of them, he points out, are uninsured. 

Sen. Vitale’s statement hits on one of the main objections the bill’s opposition has brought forward. Currently, the law requires an immigrant to at least have a temporary visa in order to apply for a driver’s license. By allowing all immigrants to obtain a driving privilege card with the pending legislation, some lawmakers are worried that the immigrants will have no reason to become legal citizens or obtain temporary paperwork for documentation that they are in the United States. 

Regardless of status, immigration lawyers in New Jersey say that the focus should continue to be public safety, as the Senator said. If immigrants can obtain driving privilege cards, they will most likely have to undergo some sort of training to bring them up to state driving standards. This could cut back on poor driving and reckless or fearful behavior, if immigrants can be secure in their right to drive. 

At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our immigration attorneys represent anyone who needs help obtaining driving cards or paperwork to remain in the state, even if you have yet to become a citizen or get a visiting visa. Contact an HCK attorney for a consultation today. 

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